We've got a new Think Again column called " Meltdown: The Blame Game," here. My new Nation column is called "It's Sliming Time (Again)," which is here. And I did a post about the final debate for the Guardian here.
At the moment, news about American -- and global -- financial disaster continues to rain down on us, and in the confusion of the moment few have thought to link this news to issues of foreign policy or imperial decline. Aziz Huq, who directs the liberty and national security project of the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University, begins his TomDispatch post today this way:
Do empires end with a bang, a whimper, or the sibilant hiss of financial deflation? We may be about to find out. Right now, in the midst of the financial whirlwind, it's been hard in the United States to see much past the moment. Yet the ongoing economic meltdown has raised a range of non-financial issues of great importance for our future. Uncertainty and anxiety about the prospects for global financial markets -- given the present liquidity crunch -- have left little space for serious consideration of issues of American global power and influence.
And that's what he does strikingly. Offering a comparison of American global power today to Britain's in the waning, post-World War II years of its empire, he warns of the dangers of a great power in economic crisis disastrously miscalculating what it can actually do in the world. He points particularly to the moment in 1956 when, in a crisis over Egypt's Suez Canal, Britain fatally overreached. Of present day American equivalents, he writes:
The most obvious temptation remains an attack on Iran, which would almost certainly fail, even as it exposed U.S. operations in Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere to blowback of a magnitude hard for many American politicians to conceptualize at the moment. It would just as surely mark an unpredictable reordering of political relations in the Middle East and possibly, like Suez, the end of American global imperial pretensions as well. Iran is but one possible place for a new Suez. Others, from Pakistan to the Straits of Taiwan, abound. Such dramatic miscalculations are easy to imagine, especially if the nationalistic pressures of inside-the-Beltway politics drive international commitments.
This is a canny warning about future perils in a world in which the U.S. is no longer the "lone superpower."
Name: Eric Alterman
Hometown: New York, New York
If anyone has great photos of the Bruce/Billy/Barack show last night, please send them along. I did not bring a camera and my BB, for some reason, did not save anything I took. And thanks, deeply, to whomever thought "change" begins with putting me and Petey in the third row. You get my nomination for Chief of Protocol, at least ...
"I can still recall/the wheatfields of St. Paul/and the time that we got caught, robbin' from an old hen."
Weekly WWOZ Pick To Click: "It's The Girl" (The Pfister Sisters) -- This week, my plumber and I decided to shape every piece of pipe in my house into a series of letters spelling out exactly how much we both love New Orleans.
Part The First: If I just may say, as I understand the kids are wont to say, OMFG! Now they have to win two at Castle Dracula down by the bay.
Part The Second: I'm sorry, but wasn't this cluck run out of decent society a while back? Did I miss a parole hearing?
Part The Third: One of the most remarkable events of the primary season was the debate in NH in which John McCain said that, in his opinion, which was considerable, torture was ineffective. At which point, most thinking human beings would have decided that, well, McCain knows more about that than I do, so let's just move along. Instead, Mitt Romney and Rudy (!) argued with him. I was reminded of that this week. To me, if John Lewis says that your rallies are sounding like Wallace rallies, well, your rallies are probably sounding like Wallace rallies.
Part The Fourth: I first met Bob Schieffer in the ante-office of John McCain's suite of offices in DC. He seemed like an avuncular old soul then. The other night, he was far and away the best moderator of any of the 49 (Oy!) debates we've had in this cycle.
Part The Fifth: Any list of great covers that does not include Shawn Colvin's revisionist "Viva Las Vegas" (from the Doc Pomus tribute album) and John Lennon's incendiary take on Barrett Strong's "Money (That's What I Want)" from The Beatles Second Album is an insult to Western culture. Just sayin'.
Part The Sixth: The Biggest Knob In Knoxville competition continues apace. Mr. I Type Five Words For A Living links us to the Power Line boys, once again playing mumbledy-peg with history. (Hey, idiots: The American Revolution was not a tax revolt. It was a revolt over taxes levied without the consent of the people being taxed. It was a revolt against unaccountable executive power. There are more, ah, compelling modern parallels than Barack Obama's tax plan.) Of course, the leader in the competition likely will pick up some points this weekend . He also seems to be dropping in this poll.
Part The Seventh: Why do I believe that Jacob Marley and Three Spirits came to visit Fred Hiatt a few nights ago?
Part The Eighth: All this fellow has to do is say the word "parrot," and I have passed on. I have ceased to be. I have expired and gone to meet my Maker. I am a stiff. Bereft of life, I rest in peace. If you don't nail me to my perch, I'll be pushing up the daisies. My metabolic processes are extinct. I'm off the twig. I've kicked the bucket, rung down the curtain, and joined the bleeding choir invisi-bule. I am an ex-Me.
Part The Last: Is there anyone who so obviously wants to write speeches in an Obama White House than my gal, The Dolphin Queen? I mean, really -- "Here is a fact of life that is also a fact of politics: You have to hold open the possibility of magic"? (I, for one, like the way the magicians made economic stability, moral authority, and international credibility disappear over the past seven years.) Mercy sakes alive, they better post a headshot of her at the guard shack the second that Obama's hand comes off that Bible.
It is past time for the people who shape the political discourse in this country to come to confront the issue of Cool, because that's been the unexplored presiding dynamic of the election so far. And, yes, I know, asking most of those 14 (Oy!) people on the CNN set after the debate the other night to discuss Cool is like asking Todd Palin to discuss Federalist 10. This country invented Cool. Some of it got invented by accident. Some of it got invented because the nation's original betrayal of its founding ideals forced upon it a society in which Cool was developed as a way of getting through the day. But Cool is kicking everybody's ass right now.
Cool is not Calm, at least not entirely, although Cool and Calm get roped together for utilitarian purposes, and usually in an unflattering way as regards the current Republican standard bearer. But this election is all about shrugging off an awful lot of the politics that happened in the last two decades, much of which took place deep in downtown Squaresville. The endless appeals to mindless prejudices and the reflexive anti-intellectualism, no matter how successful they might have been, ultimately produced a country so self-evidently tightassed that it couldn't find within itself the political imagination that is necessary for successful self-government. Not this year. This election is becoming purely about Cool -- up-or-down, yes-or-no -- in all of its glorious, liberating manifestations. As someone once explained it better than I can, it's about the blues: "...a fundamental device for confrontation, improvisation, and existential affirmation: a strategy for acknowledging the fact that life is a lowdown dirty shame and for improvising or riffing on the exigencies of the predicament."
Which is merely a long way of saying that, if some network doesn't bring on the great Albert Murray to explain it all to the country, a lot of people should lose their jobs.
p.p.s. Another intellectual highlight from that crew for which Chris Buckley is no longer good enough to write. Anybody who hasn't been happening by the intersection of Futility Street and Flopsweat Boulevard recently is missing some high comedy.
Dear Professor Eric:
Hello from lovely Albuquerque, NM! I am having a lovely visit here. I flew in on Wednesday night. So I missed the last debate. But I did get into my hotel room just in time to catch Bill Bennett criticize Obama for sounding "professorial."
"I thought Obama was flat, professorial, didn't rise to the occasion," said Bennett, who holds a Ph.D. in philosophy from the University of Texas at Austin, a law degree from Harvard University, is a former chairman of the esteemed National Endowment for the Humanities, and was -- believe it or not -- secretary of education under President Ronald Reagan.
That's about the hundredth time I had heard "professorial" used as an insult or criticism. As a professor myself, I happen to think that being professorial means being pensive, patient, curious, and level-headed.
Anyway, I had to write a column about this phenomenon. I wanted to share it with Altercation readers here.
OK. Time to go. BTW, don't you think Manny Ramirez should be MVP of both leagues this year? I am seriously bummed out that he did not get to exact revenge on the Sox in the series. Oh well. Hey, I just found out that the Tampa-St. Petersburg area has a professional baseball club. Apparently, they are quite good. Who knew?
Eric replies: Oh, I don't know. Great game, I hear, but I was elsewhere (in the third row) ...
I found this, which is supposingly a review of the misleading statements by McCain and Obama during yesterday's debate. Here it is:
OBAMA: Said that if families get a $5,000 tax credit for buying health insurance and the insurance then costs $12,000, that's a loss for them.
THE FACTS: The tax credit offered by McCain is more generous for the vast majority of people than the current tax break, which they would lose, according to the Tax Policy Center. Now, people don't pay taxes on the health benefits they get from work. Obama's statement gives the impression that $5,000 is all that workers will be getting to help them pay for a health plan, but that's just what the federal government will provide. Economists say most employers would still contribute to their workers' health insurance. The Lewin Group, a health care consulting firm, found that by taxing health benefits but providing a tax credit, the average family would come out $1,411 ahead.
I don't know what this Lewin group is, but all of this is completely misleading. For self-employed people like myself, this tax credit is good, because it would reduce my expenses on health insurance, but for people who are employed and receive health insurance from their employers, this would be a disaster. Instead of having fee health insurance, any fee for insurance beyond that first $5,000 would now be taxed as income. This is not a good deal for them.
Without comparing it to any of the august posts you list -- I'm not going to even enter into the question of its relative merits -- I'd like to put forward David Rees's fisking of a Michael Ignatieff essay in 2007:
I was a little surprised to see that two covers which stretch from the ridiculous to the savagely sublime have yet to make you or your readers' lists of top cover songs: "Boyz in the Hood," by Dynamite Hack, and "All Along the Watchtower," by Jimi Hendrix.
Dynamite Hack's version of the song that put N.W.A on the sonic map at the end of the '80s, completely drains all the drama and macho posturing out of the original. It's a little like hearing a reading of Poe's "The Bells," if it were recited by Perry Como.
Bob Dylan recorded "All Along the Watchtower" for his acoustic 1968 comeback "John Wesley Harding" album. The whole record had a mellow, folksy sound to it; not all that surprising, coming from someone who'd nearly bought it in a motorcycle accident since his last recordings.
Not long after, Hendrix took "Watchtower" and gave it a drive and electric urgency absent from the original. You need only listen to him bellow the last verse:
"All along the watchtower/princes kept the view/while all the women came and went/barefoot servants, too/Outside in the cold distance/a wildcat did growl/two riders were approaching/and the wind began to howl."
It always leaves me with those familiar feelings of unease and dread. And that's even before I read the Business section of the L.A. Times.
Eric replies: Someone's not paying attention. I specifically said "not terribly well known" covers. Hendrix? Dylan?